VERBUM: A Good Start

Last week, the newly established Office of the Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives released its first annual report on faculty diversity, which discusses the office’s work in recruiting, retaining and supporting underrepresented minority faculty. Their stated goal is to increase URM faculty from 16 percent to 25 percent by 2025, which would require the hiring of about 60 new minority faculty members. The college has set aside $22.5 million in endowment funds to support URM recruitment and retention. This comes at a time where diversity on campuses has been prominent in the national consciousness, with a great deal of airtime being dedicated to racial issues at colleges around the country, including our own. While we view faculty diversity initiatives as a crucial step in the right direction, there are others who believe that these kinds of initiatives are not only unnecessary, but also wasteful of the College’s funds.
It is no secret that the Dartmouth student body is far from reflective of the country as a whole when it comes to URM students, and it is alarming that faculty representation doesn’t even live up to our currently skewed student demographic. Diversity in the classroom is incredibly important; so many facets of a liberal arts education are built on strictly Western ideals, and a lack of diversity in our education could lead to a narrow understanding of a broad world. Many people argue that this concern over diversity shouldn’t extend to faculty, that race shouldn’t be a factor in education. In a completely post-racial world that might be the case, but we don’t live in a post-racial world by any means. Every instructor is going to offer a different perspective, and the exact same material can be seen in countless different ways through different people’s eyes. It is important that all of us, minority students or not, come to see the world just a little bit through different perspectives. An understanding of the world around you that has only come from people similar to you is an extremely narrow one, if it qualifies as understanding at all.
Faculty diversity is also incredibly important when it comes to mentoring. Again, people will argue that a student should be able to find a mentor in anyone with similar academic interests, and theoretically this is true. However, research has shown time and time again that minority students perform better under minority teachers. This is often attributed to the “role-model effect.” Put simply, students have been shown to set higher goals and expect more from themselves when they see that people of their race, gender, nationality or class in positions of prominence. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we all make assumptions about ourselves based on people that we perceive to be similar to us. So, if a URM student has little to no exposure to professors of their same race, they might operate with the unconscious understanding that, “People like me just don’t become professors”. Many critics of diversity hiring initiatives argue that going out of our way to hire minority professors could end up hurting the students in the long run — the best professors should be hired, regardless of race, end of story. Unfortunately, the best professors often aren’t hired when race enters into the equation. Studies have proven that most companies and organizations tend to choose candidates that they assume are white based on names over minority candidates with identical resumes. So, perhaps it isn’t that URM candidates don’t stack up, but rather, that URM candidates are being overlooked.
This initiative is a good first step in boosting faculty diversity. It dedicates roughly a million dollars a year to recruitment and retention efforts, which we assume will most likely go towards recruiting expenses (trips, meals, tours, etc.), salary increases and signing bonuses. Recruiting top talent to come to a small, isolated town is hard enough, but getting minority professors to come to an institution that has a track record of racial and cultural homogeneity would likely cost every penny of that money. Some of the resources are also being dedicated to maintaining the existing pre-doctoral fellowships dedicated to the study of minority issues and establishing one new one, and hopefully these efforts will serve to bring up a class of new professors who get their start at Dartmouth and commit their careers to the College.
This report is not going to solve the faculty diversity problem on campus. However, it’s a good start. It sends a message to up-and-coming professors around the country that Dartmouth is a place that cares about diversity, and that we are willing to back it up with more than just words. It brings an issue that is often ignored by the majority of campus to light and gets an important conversation started. Hopefully, going into the future, this initiative will serve as the groundwork for a comprehensive effort by Dartmouth to recruit the best minority faculty in the country. Each professor has a different and fascinating perspective, and any college student should be dedicated to seeking out as many of them as possible.

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